In 1867 The Gilbertville Congregation organized. They met in the “Gilbertville Hall” (currently the VFW) until 1872 when the membership had outgrown the Hall. In 1879 the name of the church was changed to “Trinitarian Congregational Church.” The church was built using $20,000 left by George H. Gilbert and a matching grant of $20.000 bequeathed from the George H. Gilbert Company. The company also donated the land. The foundations were begun in June 1872. The Church was completed and dedicated in September 1874. Seating capacity was about 350. It was described as “a perfect gem of architecture and the crowning ornament of the most beautiful manufacturing village in the Commonwealth.”
The architect was E. Boyden and Son of Worcester. Elbridge Boyden (1810–1898) designed many public buildings throughout the country, chiefly in New England. Area buildings he designed include Mechanics Hall in Worcester, the public library in Hubbardston, and the Congregational church in Brookfield.
The Tudor Gothic style church would be 88 feet long and 60 feet wide with a 127 foot tower. The church was built of Monson Granite. The master builder and contractor were from Providence RI. Interior illumination was by gas, before electrification. There are disconnected remnants of old gas illumination piping in the church attic and cellar.
In 1883 Edward H. Gilbert presented the church with a Meneely bell. The Meneely Foundries, a series of family-owned foundries, were established in 1826 and closed in 1952 Together the foundries produced about 65,000 bells.
In 1884 Lewis Gilbert had E. Boyden & Son design a gothic style chapel to adjoin the church. In September 1884 the chapel was finished and the church was as we see it today. In 1911 work was done on the spire, which had been slightly leaning for years. It was taken down above the lantern level and rebuilt and now appears taller than the original height.
The Gilbertville National Register Historic District was created in 1991 with the approval and assistance of the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC). Over 120 structures built by the Gilbert Company between 1870 and 1910, including the Stone Church, were deemed worthy of preservation for their historical significance. The Trinitarian church complex, a contributing resource, was described in the application as “the most architecturally ambitious group in the village, an exceptional 19th century high-style building….”[reference available: author is Clare Dempsey]
In the winter of 2011-12, the Trinitarian Church building was closed by its congregation. In 2015, a grass-roots group that became FOSC worked with the remaining members of the Trinitarian congregation to save the building. In the process, with an Emergency Funds grant from the MHC, a preservation restriction in perpetuity was put on the deed of the Stone Church, making it secure from alteration to its exterior, interior and grounds.
In 2016, FOSC re-opened the building, calling it “the Stone Church,” and offering cultural programs, concerts and space for community activities, including town youth activities and Tri-Parish worship services. FOSC has worked continuously since 2015 to preserve the building and open it to all to share this valuable local landmark.
Another endowment from the Gilbert Estate and matching funds from the Gilbert Company were used to purchase a Johnson and Son Organ in 1874. The organ has two manuals and 13 ranks and is Opus 430. It is in its original condition, except for the electrification of the bellows.
In 54 years the Johnson and Son Company built 860 organs. The company operated from 1844 through 1898. All Johnson organs were completely mechanical. In a tracker organ all the linkage connections between the keys, pedals and valves are mechanical. This allows the organist to control the timing and volume of the sound by touch and the use of stops.
In the 54 years from 1990 to 2011 Donald Boothman, a professional baritone and a founding director of Friends of the Stone Church, produced concerts to use and to fund this historic instrument, under the name of “Friends of the Gilbertville Organ” or FOGO. Mr. Boothman died in July, 2016 after organizing and performing in the re-opening celebration concerts for the Stone Church in April.
Stefan Maier of Tracker Organs, Inc. oversees maintenance and tuning. In 2018, he installed a functioning tremulant to replace the original one, which was not repairable. The tremulant produces a characteristic vibrato effect essential to the performance of 19th century music.
Click here to hear our Meneely bell and organ https://youtu.be/F-fJSJPfEIE
You can read about the Gilbertville Stone Church in the Massachusetts Historical Commission’s Resource Inventory.